The three weeks of vacation I have aren’t nearly enough for a travel addict like me. In order to squeeze more travel time into the year, I try to plan around holidays whenever practical. I decided the four day Thanksgiving weekend was too much free time to pass up, so I tacked on my last vacation day and started planning a trip to Prague. Not wanting to waste most of a day on a layover in the Paris or Amsterdam airport, I decided to book my flight into London’s Gatwick airport. That gave me 11 hours between landing in London and the flight I booked on easyJet to get to Prague.   

After going through customs and putting my backpack in the left luggage, I got on the Gatwick Express, which runs between Gatwick and Victoria Station, 30 minutes each way. Having already been to London several years ago, my main goal was to visit the British Museum because I didn’t get there last time I was in London. Since the museum doesn’t open until 10AM I decided it would be my last stop. I really wanted to get pictures of some of the places I saw years ago, before having a digital camera.

Buckingham Palace is only a few blocks from Victoria Station, so it was my first visit. The whole time I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m in London! The excited, I-can’t-believe-I’m-here thoughts are typical for me the first day or so of any trip, even if it’s a repeat visit. I just love the feeling of being somewhere different, the challenges of being away from the familiarities of home. I didn’t stay for the changing of the guard because I was about two hours too early, but it was still neat to see the guards marching back and forth.

Buckingham Palace

From there, I walked through St. James Park and enjoyed the last few scraps of autumn. The flowers were still colorful, but the leaves had almost all fallen off the trees. Ducks waddled around and swam in the water, runners jogged through the park for exercise, a cute couple walked by holding hands. I simply braced myself against the cold, which was at least keeping me awake after my red-eye flight.

St. James Park

Once I reached the other end of the park, I was only a few blocks from Big Ben, one of the most recognized landmarks in London. Since it had been many years since my previous trip to London, I didn’t realize Westminster Abbey was almost right next to Big Ben until I was right in front of it. That was a nice little bonus since I wasn’t expecting to see it while I was there that day. I took dozens of pictures of Big Ben, but I think this is one of my favorites because you can also see the London Eye in the back. I didn’t think I would have time for the London Eye, so just getting a glimpse of it behind Big Ben was nice.

Big Ben

By this point, I had been walking around for a few hours, being tortured by the cold, and I was really ready for an indoor activity. I started walking towards the museum, passing Trafalgar Square on my way. I welcomed the warmth of the British Museum and studied the map to see where I wanted to go first. The famous Rosetta Stone was fairly close to the Great Court, so I went there first. A huge group of school children and parents admired the stone, and while it is impressive, I wondered how many people would’ve even heard of it had it not been for the well-known language company. After that I wandered from room to room, finding some items interesting and some just chunks of ancient carvings. I know the British Museum is supposed to be this impressive, amazing museum, but to me it was just another museum, which meant I was done with it after about an hour or two. I drank a hot chocolate before facing the cold again to find lunch and eventually heading back to the airport.

Overall, I really enjoyed my day in London. It was nice to see landmarks I last saw when I was 14, and it turned out to be a great way to combat jetlag. Other than dozing off for 20 minutes here and there on the flight to London and the flight from London to Prague, I had to stay awake all day. This meant by the time I got to my room in Prague, it was 10PM and a perfectly acceptable time to go to bed. While I’d probably never want to run through a city I’ve never been to in a matter of hours, it was a great alternative to a boring layover stuck in an anonymous airport.

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26 comments on “A Day in London

  1. Amanda

    What a great way to make use of a layover! I’m sure it was nice to finally get some digital photos of all those famous London landmarks. I can’t wait to visit that city someday!

    1. Ali Post author

      It did end up better than I thought it was, definitely enjoyed the day. You should definitely go and spend at least a few days in London.

  2. Jaime

    You know it had never crossed my mind to use a layover as an opportunity to see a city, even if its for a few hours until getting to talk with the travel community. I once had a 10hr layover in Atlanta and well I stayed in the airport the whole time (this was before twitter, had I known you then we would have had a burger…lol)!!!

    Looks like you did a lot during your layover and got to see quite a bit of stuff. I don’t think I’ll be making it to London this time around on my RTW trip but one day I will.

    Great pics btw ;)~

    1. Ali Post author

      I love making trips more complicated for some reason, so planning things this way was like a little challenge for me. Maybe you’ll have another layover in Atlanta sometime and we’ll hang out :-)

    1. Ali Post author

      Aw :-) As always, thanks for reading, Christina!

  3. Andrew

    Great story and pictures. It is indeed a neat way of both using a layover and beating jetlag by forcing yourself to be awake. Though I agree completely that it wouldn’t be a good choice for a city you have never seen.
    Makes me kind of wish I had been able to use my 10 hour layover in Athens, but it was Midnight to 8am, so probably would not have been as useful.

    1. Ali Post author

      Yeah, I imagine the “sights” you’d see from midnight to 8am might not have been the best.

  4. Zablon Mukuba

    i love the way you are spontaneous and you dont waste any moment. great way to spend some time in London

    1. Ali Post author

      What a nice compliment, thank you!

  5. Andi

    What an awesome day you had! I’m impressed you got that much done with jetlag and being in the cold. :)

    1. Ali Post author

      It’s mind over matter for me. I did almost fall asleep when I stopped for lunch but I made it through!

  6. Rachel

    Great article! Another great layover resource which includes things to do when stuck inside the airport and when you get the chance to venture out is http://www.LayoverGuide.com

  7. Laura

    “The three weeks of vacation I have aren’t nearly enough for a travel addict like me.” I say this constantly. I also try to get creative with using my time off around holidays. Good use of a layover! It sounds like you really saw a lot of sights in London for your time there. We did something similar in Madrid once; I think it’s worth it to get to see a bit of a new city. Better than sitting in the airport!

    1. Ali Post author

      I love Spain! It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one making quick stops like this!

  8. Erica

    I think the longest layover we had was in Newark, NJ and I wasn’t about to go on a walking tour there. :P

    Great usage of time in such a wonderful city!

    1. Ali Post author

      Yeah, good choice on the Newark thing! You might not have made it back to the airport.

  9. Jenny

    Layovers are a great way to see a place for a short (or long) period of time for no real extra cost. When I went to volunteer in Vanuatu, my plane had to either stopover in Fiji or Sydney. I choose Fiji… and I also choose to stay there a week rather than a few hours on my way home.

    So jealous you went to Europe. Never been.

    1. Ali Post author

      That’s so awesome about the Fiji layover! And maybe you’ve never been to Europe, but I’m willing to bet you’ll make it there sometime in the near future on your never-ending trip!

  10. islandmomma

    Well done! Although I think if you’d been less hurried you might have found more substence in the British Museum. Faced with around six or seven hours in London in October I opted for a similar walk, mainly picknicing in St James’s park, which was in all it’s autumn glory just then, and it was wonderful.

    Because I live on an island I almost always have a layover when I travel, often longish ones and often in London or in Spanish cities. I found it a great way to get a “snapshot” of somewhere I want to visit later, or occasionally realize I, actually, am not drawn to a place, so the flying visit was sufficient! My last one was in Dublin, where, happily for me, I have friends, though I’d never visited them, and they gave me a fantastic whirlwind tour!

    The time you had was, actually, more than people on cruises often have. Sometimes I meet friends who are visiting the islands on a cruise, and they, typically have less than 11 hours!

    1. Ali Post author

      I had quite a few hours to spend at the museum & I really tried but I’m just not a museum person. Thanks for reading!

  11. Kirsten

    AWESOME way to use a long layover! Props to you for seizing the reigns and doing it! Personally, the British Museum was my FAVORITE part of my two weeks in London. But – I’m a complete museum geek.

    1. Ali Post author

      Thanks! I didn’t hate the museum but definitely not my thing.

  12. Sofie

    Great way to use a layover!
    I’ve been to London five times but I’ve actually never been to the British Museum. I did go to the V&A last September. It was nice, but soooo big and crowded.
    Also, I’ve usually had it in a museum after about two hous, no matter how interesting or big it is.

    1. Ali Post author

      I’m not much of a museum person either, but I will go to them every once in awhile when it’s supposed to be a really great one.

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